Strawberry Summer strikes again
By Charles Bolinger of the Suburban Journals

They came from as close as Hazelwood and as far as Monett, Mo. One man even came from Houston, Texas.

Thousands of people flooded the campus of the Fee Fee Baptist Church in Bridgeton Saturday for the 111th Annual Strawberry Festival. They were seemingly unaffected by the warm, humid conditions.
“I enjoy the crowd, and I know the festival is for the children,” said Marilyn Hartley as she served varieties of strawberry shortcake.

Hartley, 59, and her fellow members of the Oak Hill Baptist Church in Florissant have been attending the festival for at least 15 years, she said.

“It’s always a lot of fun, and I get to aggravate people a lot too,” Hartley said with a smile as she waited to serve another piece of cake.

Started in 1891 as a fund-raiser, the festival features gospel and contemporary Christian music, a barbecue, games for children, crafts, puppets, and of course, strawberries, all set in the historic campus of brick buildings.

Strawberry cakes, ice cream, pies, milkshakes and chocolate could all be purchased. Or, visitors just could eat strawberries.

Proceeds from the festival go to the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home (MBCH) general fund. MBCH also benefits from the Apple Festival in the Kansas City area and the Berry Festival in the Springfield, Mo. area. Both occur every September.

While attendees typically hail from all over the Show-Me State, there are exceptions.

“We had one guy here this morning who’s from Houston, Texas who’s been coming to these for 45 years,” said Russell Martin, executive vice-president of the MBCH.

Some of the North County Baptist churches represented Saturday included those in Hazelwood, Florissant, St. John and Overland. Pattonville-Bridgeton Terrace paramedics operated a cooling station for those affected by the weather.

The Bridgeton Police Explorers were on hand too, directing traffic and monitoring parking. There were so many vehicles, they overflowed to, then filled, the former Home Quarters parking lot across from Northwest Plaza.

Aromas of bratwurst, fish, hamburger and chicken all mingled as grills flamed and people stood in line for food and beverages, fanning themselves while they waited.

“We do the barbecue and plain chicken sandwiches and the chocolate-covered strawberries,” said Kandy Pigeiataro, 56, who works for Union Planters bank.

For about the 10th year, she and several of her co-workers worked under a large tent to serve the goodies to hungry festivalgoers.

“We were going to change the menu because when the humidity is this high, the chocolate will not set, but they said ‘No, no, no, we want chocolate-covered strawberries,'” Pigeiataro said.

On the south edge of the campus, a quilt auction took place, the auctioneer’s distinctive cadences echoing from a sound system. Nearby, several people served and spiked a volleyball under the June sun.

Meanwhile, MBCH staffers took turns getting soaked in a dunking booth and children queued up for a spin in the Berry Go-Round ride, a large, spinning metal strawberry.

A Christian agency, MBCH ministers to youth, children and families in the area. It operates five campuses around the state and offers services including residential care, emergency care, crisis pregnancy counseling, foster programs and counseling.